Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita N’yongo, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forrest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis
*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM CAPTAIN AMERICA:CIVIL WAR (2016) AND MINOR SPOILERS FOR BLACK PANTHER (2018)
By far the two stand out moments of Captain America: Civil War, which I had selected as my favourite film of 2016, were the inclusion of iconic web-slinger Spider-Man and the King of Wakanda Black Panther. They fit perfectly into the film’s central narrative and put fans worries at ease that they would feel like a rushed inclusion. Two years later both characters were finally given their own feature debut film with the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming (which I adored) and now with the release of Black Panther, Marvel Studio’s eighteenth instalment in their beloved superhero franchise. Two completely contrasting figures but do the two stand their ground with their own flicks? Spider-Man did and so has Black Panther. While it may not re-invent the genre by any means, this is still a solidly directed and insightful look at a man burdened with the responsibility of being a both a king of a hidden country and a crime fighting vigilante.
Set directly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to the city of Wakanda following the loss of his father King T’Chaka which in turn means that T’Challa is next in line to the throne of Wakanda. However, a figure who may have an association with some of the actions of his father’s past reappears to cause problems for T’Challa and his friends. One of the positives that must be made note of in Black Panther is its depiction of Wakanda itself. To the outside world the city is a deprived third world country but it turns out this is all a front to shield its secrets. Wakanda is actually a grand-scale futuristic urbanised environment, in a similar fashion to Asgard, while still maintaining its traditional African tribal roots. It reminded me heavily of HBO’s infamous series Game of Thrones with its focus on the various family conflicts between the different tribes that populate Wakanda. There is one sequence in particular which brilliantly highlights this conflict which sees T’Challa fight off the leader M’Baku from a neighbouring tribe of big brutish warriors in order to prove himself a worthy and powerful King. Another positive that this film has going for it is with the direction of Ryan Cooler who certainly has proven himself in the past to be a very talented filmmaker with his work on films such as Fruitvale Station and Creed, both of which have the focus of the African-American experience in modern society. With Black Panther, Coogler brings these themes to the forefront and also demonstrates that he knows how to stage a great fight scene. There’s some stunning stunt choreography on display here ranging from T’Challa’s gladiatorial fights, to a bar fight in South Korea to a fast paced car chase sequence in the some country. They’re a lot of fun to watch and even use the same technique that Coogler used in some of the boxing fights in Creed where the camera refuses to cut away from the action that is on display. If anything, this felt like more of a Ryan Coogler film than another Marvel movie. It is so satisfy to see Marvel provide alternative filmmakers like Coogler with as much free reign as possible so they can tell the stories that they want to tell. It reminded me heavily of the creative control Taika Waititi had with Thor: Ragnarok which was another solid entry to the Marvel canon.
I also have to make note of Black Panther’s cast because this is one fantastic ensemble of talented actors. Boseman who has also proven himself to be a great performer in films like 42, Get On Up and even the work he did in Captain America: Civil War, continues to shine as the central hero while also getting to show off his more dramatic range in particular in moments where he learns the truth surrounding Wakanda’s nobles. There’s even some strong work from supporting players such as Academy Award winners Lupita N’yongo playing the leader of the Dora Milaje (one the many neighbouring tribes inhabiting Wakanda), Nakia and Forrest Whittaker as the wise sage Zuri. Danai Guirira (who you may recognise as Michonne from The Walking Dead) and Letitia Wright (who you may have seen in the Black Museum episode of Black Mirror) also do a great job here but the standout performance here, and quite frankly the person who steals the entire film, is Michael B. Jordan (marking this as his third collaboration with Ryan Coogler) as Black Panther’s arch-nemesis Erik “Killmonger” Stevens. Now Marvel has had a bit of a villain complex in the past and has often struggled to avoid presenting its audience with the same antagonist and by-the-numbers take over the world narrative. Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange in my opinion have the weakest villains. Killmonger is most certainly not one of these villains. His quest for power is a lot more personal and like with Spider-Man: Homecoming I understood exactly where he was coming from with his motivation. This is what makes a great villain so interesting, they’re not just those who are hell bent on a path for power. They are those who have experienced a great amount of trauma in their past and as a result they have become blinded by their desire to get what they want. I loved Killmonger as a villain Michael B. Jordan knocks it out of the park with his performance in this film. Not only does he convey the struggle of this character but he’s also a real physical threat to T’Challa as well which is made all the more evident as these two engage in hand-to-hand combat.
As for issues with the film, there are really only a few I have and they largely have to with certain narrative choices. There are a few detours from the main narrative which feel like they are more of a distraction than a method of progression. On story arc in South Korea is entertaining for a while but it does overstay its welcome a little bit. Also, without giving too much away there’s a character who has been seen before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who makes a re-appearance here and I personally didn’t feel as though this character added anything to the movie and wasn’t in it that much to leave a lasting impact. There’s a lot of fight and stunt choreography that is on display here is practical for the most part, the minor uses of computer generated imagery are a bit ropey. There’s a fight scene between two characters in a train track that to me felt as though it belonged in a PS2 cutscene. But like I said, these issues are minor for the most part.
Black Panther is a solid origin story to a character that we had only just scratched surface of in Civil War. Coogler and the rest of the filmmakers involved have given us a beautifully told tale of responsibility, nobility, lineage by introducing us to a world that is so well constructed and realised that you instantly become immersed in the culture and politics holding the city in place. It features some great acting on display here with Michael B. Jordan giving us without a shadow of a doubt one of the best antagonists of Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel really can do no wrong which makes it all the more interesting to see how they handle everything with their biggest gamble to date: Infinity War. Also, the soundtrack to this film which was mainly composed by hip-hop legend Kendrick Lamar along with a variety of other urban artists such as The Weeknd, Jorja Smith, Future, 2Chainz, SZA etc is top notch.